Saturday, January 04, 2014

Doctor Who #774: Whatever Happened to Sarah Jane? Part 1

"Somebody just walked over my grave."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Oct.29 2007.

IN THIS ONE... Sarah Jane is wiped from reality and only Maria remembers her.

REVIEW: Gareth Roberts hasn't just written the best story of the season here, but given Sarah Jane her own, very powerful archenemy in the Trickster. This monster is a science-fiction version of the Devil, entering into quantum contracts with people that allow him to change history. And I'm guessing time travelers are "complex space-time events" too delicious to pass up. Or that screwing with the Doctor's companions screws with the Doctor himself, the juiciest space-time event of them all (for the Trickster's direct impact on the Time Lord, see Turn Left and Death of the Doctor). And of course, there is this matter of Sarah Jane being the only one who knows of, and can stop, an asteroid headed for Earth. In his first of several outings, he interferes with a crucial point in Sarah's youth, exchanging her life for a school mate's in a fatal accident when the two girls were Maria's age. This is crucial because not only will Maria be the only one to remember Sarah, thanks to an alien soothsayer's puzzle box, but will end up in 1964 at the site of those events. Who says SJA can't do time travel? The only bit I don't completely buy into is the use of the Graske as the Trickster's minion. It seems contrary to what seem to be the Trickster's powers to need the removed person physically kidnapped (perhaps their quantum signature needs to be absent from the universe before time can be altered, though that's not going to weather close examination), and becomes an excuse for a silly monster Roberts created for Attack of the Graske. Not that these two stories are compatible.

Sarah Jane's replacement is Andrea Yates, a rather complex character in the context of this show (unlike Warriors of Kudlak's writer, Roberts doesn't talk down to the kids in the audience). Andrea deserves our sympathy. After all, she's just a pawn of the Trickster's, a young girl who made a selfish choice to save her life at the expense of another's. And forgotten all about it until Maria, from her point of view, completely changes attitude and starts yelling at her about Sarah. She lived an entire life - "to the fullest" - and is a real person, friendly and outgoing, no matter what history intended. And yet, her weakness allows her to be a villain too. When Maria comes knocking, what she can't bear isn't the life hers cost, but that this girl is causing problems, making her remember and so on. If we can't blame 13-year-old Andrea for her choice, 56-year-old Andrea's choice is much more horrible, relegating a second 13-year-old girl to non-existence. And there are more subtle cues that point to Andrea' selfishness, like the fact that she's the kind of person who plans their own birthday parties. This makes it slightly more okay for us to want Sarah Jane back at Andrea's expense, a sentiment chillingly expressed by Maria, who may or may not realize what she's saying. For Sarah to live, Andrea must die, and to be the instrument of that restoration means participating in a girl's death.

Obviously, without Sarah around, we don't have Luke or even Clyde (he's insulted loser Maria from school would call him), or a Mr. Smith. One imagines past threats could have been handled by Torchwood, UNIT or the Doctor himself, but we'll learn the truth in Part 2. History hasn't changed THAT much; it's been molded into this shape. It's a nice touch that Maria is the one Sarah Jane trusts the most. The show is very much divided into girls and boys at this point, and just as Luke and Clyde are best friends, Maria is the one who made Sarah come out of her shell. And she's the one who has to keep the faith, the only one who remembers and may even be in limited contact with limboed Sarah. And when Maria's gone, it's Alan who's in possession of the puzzle box and who remembers a girl who never was. There are three realities here as reality itself becomes a kind of puzzle box. This time, we see the process occur as Alan trips out and his family pictures disappear. Chrissie confirms she never wanted kids and would make a bad mother, which explains something of their family dynamic. So through a fantastical plot, character is revealed, which is where these Adventures live best.

REWATCHABILITY: High - If you can only watch one story of SJA's first series, make it this one.


~P~ said...

Been on a big DOCTOR WHO kick recently, and have indeed been tossing in some Torchwood and Sarah Jane Adventures into the mix.

This sounds like a good'un - especially as I have been introduced to the Trickster (albeit, out of time...which shouldn't be problematic when dealing with time-traveling whovians) in "The Wedding of Sarah Jane".

It helps that Sarah Jane is my favorite companion, and excellent in her own right.

I only read half of your review, so as to avoid "spoilers" (which we know all time-travelers should avoid).


Siskoid said...

Oh I'm so glad to hear people are finally tuning in to SJA. It's one of the reasons I was keen to cover the spin-offs, so many people I know just dismissed it as a kids' show that wasn't worth their time. I really hope to get people interested in it and redeem it in their eyes.

SJA had seasons that were better than the same year's Doctor Who, in my opinion, but like most shows, there are growing pains the first year, and I understand why the pilot was a turn-off.